Neuville, from Belgium, leads Dutch driver Hans Weijs Jr by a commanding margin of 48.1 seconds although he suffered a scare on the final stage when his Citroen C2’s power steering failed. In order to make it through the run he got co-driver Nicolas Klinger to apply the handbrake at hairpin turns so he could use all his strength to turn the steering wheel.
“It’s been good but that last stage was very difficult,” said Neuville, who is chasing his second win in the young driver class this year. “This morning was not so easy with all the mud on the road but I am pleased with my day.”
Weijs Jr had difficulties of his own to contend with after a brake problem held him back in the afternoon. “We had the wrong set-up and then a problem with the brakes,” said Weijs Jr.
Kevin Abbring was third heading into the final stage but crashed heavily on the test. His Renault Clio R3 went off the road and dropped 20 metres before rolling into a tree. Early reports suggest both Abbring and co-driver Erwin Mombaerts were uninjured although their Clio suffered extensive damage for the second event in succession.
Rising French talent Mathieu Arzeno took advantage of Abbring’s exit to move into third place although it could have been a different story for the Frenchman after he had built an early lead, only to spin on stage four and stall his Citroen’s engine. Unable to restart the motor, Arzeno lost more than one minute while spectators frantically tried to get his car pointing in the right direction before giving him a push start.
Jeremi Ancian, who fought WRC star Sebastien Ogier for the French Peugeot Cup title in 2007, is fourth in a Suzuki Swift S1600, which he is using as his prize for winning the one-make Suzuki title in France last season. He is also the sole wildcard entry in the J-WRC after Pierre Campana was forced to scrap his entry due to a lack of funds.
Championship leader Aaron Burkart is fifth after opting to run slick tyres during the damp morning stages. “We lost a lot of time this morning because the back of car was really sliding too much,” said the German Suzuki driver.
Bulgarian Todor Slavov is sixth overall in his Clio R3, which he spent the build-up to the rally preparing himself. “We did not have the money to buy the spare parts until just before the rally and we had to finish working on the car here. I am a little tired because of this and we also got a penalty because we were late for the first stage.”
Harry Hunt rounds out the list of classified runners in his Ford Fiesta R2 having been delayed a broken gear linkage.
Rally results links on wrc.com: